The 1989 Advani Parallel for Modi in 2014
A major milestone of BJP’s history came about on September 25th 1989 when the party’s national executive met at the Shanmukhananda auditorium in Bombay. It was in the run-up to the 8th Lok Sabha elections that many opposition stalwarts and ideologues were trying to bring about an alliance between the BJP and the Janata Dal to oust the Bofors-tainted Rajiv Gandhi regime. The main stumbling block for such an alliance to fructify was V.P. Singh who had recently joined the Dal and was vehemently opposed to what he berated as a “communal party” (at least in public). One of the chief negotiators from the saffron camp for a broad opposition coalition was Bhaurao Deoras a genial RSS man who had friends cutting across party lines. Deoras suggested only seat sharing instead of an alliance as a solution to the vexed problem of lack of opposition unity.
A foxy V.P. Singh wanted seat sharing only in states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, but wanted to keep BJP out of the loop in the then undivided UP and Bihar which together accounted for as many as 140 MPs. He wanted to ride on BJP’s strength in Western India but was unwilling to forego Muslim voters in the heartland. Many in the saffron circles, still weary of a 1984 like result when BJP spectacularly under-performed by winning just 2 seats, were willing to make compromises of all kinds to stay politically relevant. In fact, it is quite well-known among the saffron camp followers that the top leadership of the Sangh and the still fledgling BJP were inclined to accept seat-sharing arrangement on V.P. Singh’s terms for the ostensible reason of defeating Rajiv Gandhi.
One man though stood strong on his ground, rejecting any purely opportunistic seat-sharing arrangement. He spoke thus in the Bombay national executive of September 1989, “If they come, with them; if they don’t, without them; and if they oppose us, in spite of them… irrespective of what the Janata Dal does, we are determined to get rid of this most incompetent and corrupt Rajiv Gandhi government”. He stuck to the principle of either a seat-sharing arrangement everywhere or nowhere.
Only one man possessed such clarity of thought in the initial years of the BJP, he was none other than Lal Krishna Advani, the then president of the party. His tough stance stood the party in good stead as BJP made a historic leap from 2 to 85 MPs in the 1989 elections. It was indeed a strange long jump seldom seen in democratic elections anywhere in the world, let alone in India. BJP had arrived on the national scene, and from that point in time of history, the party has never looked back.
Had Advani not stuck to his guns in 1989, BJP may well have suffered the fate of the Janata Dal which kept shrinking with each passing election even as BJP kept growing. Today Janata Dal does not exist, while BJP is the only national alternative to the Congress. But, unfortunately, the same Lal Krishna Advani who once conquered all the adversaries of the BJP with his clarity of thought, is today a confused soul. It was Advani who had articulated in the same Bombay session of 1989 that BJP believed in positive secularism, whereas Congress and other parties believed in vote secularism. He had then gone on to define positive secularism as “justice for all and appeasement to none”, a political philosophy that is the corner stone of Modi’s BJP in 2014!
Political philosophies are never prisoners of individual leaders, for age cannot wither them nor custom stale them. As today’s Modi speaks of “Constitution as the only holy book and India as the only religion”, the Advani of today sulks that his party is not as “inclusive” as it should be! As today’s Modi speaks of governance for all and appeasement for none, the Advani of today is more enamoured by the pseudo ideas of “inclusive growth” propagated by the likes of Nitish Kumar. As today’s Modi wants to take a decisive right turn in the economic trajectory of India, the Advani of today is all praise for socialist leaky cauldrons like NREGA. History has a strange sense of humour reserved for old men who refuse to gracefully accept their own ideas transforming into more viable political entities. History ridicules them as a petulant child who cries for his lost toy.
L.K. Advani’s spectacular achievements of the 1990s are indeed praiseworthy, but it must also be remembered that it was Advani who made it possible for the BJP to go below the 20% mark for the first time in two decades in 2009. When a party goes into the sub-20% vote-share region, its electoral significance gets reduced by a factor much larger than what is borne out by mere numbers, for seat conversions are almost halved in late teens as compared to early 20s. In simple terms, a party that goes into the sub-20% vote share is clearly on a path to national suicide!
BJP was in danger of going the Janata Dal way of disintegrating into many regional parties, but it has avoided that disaster almost at the last moment by reinventing itself. A large part of BJP’s reinvention has been brought about by one man alone, Narendrabhai Modi. As BJP is once again set to make a giant leap like it did in 1989, Advani and his cabal are proving to be the biggest hurdle. Today’s Advani probably believes that his own political ambitions are far greater than the political philosophy he has given birth to. What else explains his dramas every day and the deliberate attempts to sabotage the party’s chances by forcing wrong MP candidates at crucial levels? Let us do four simple case studies spread out in four different parts of India to understand this phenomenon of wrongful candidate selection;
Bidar (Karnataka): After long deliberations, BJP has fielded Bhagwant Khuba, a virtually unknown entity from this seat that is represented by former CM Dharam Singh of the Congress. It was widely speculated in Karnataka political circles that state unit of the BJP had sold out to Mr Singh who is virtually non-ambulant due to age related disorders. B.S. Yeddyurappa tried valiantly to put up a fight against Dharam Singh by nominating someone far more capable (Suryakant Nagamarpalli) but to no avail. The state unit of the BJP which sabotaged the chances of the party is extremely close to Advani.
Sonepat (Haryana): Any child in Sonepat will tell you that BJP had a great chance of winning this seat if it had nominated Pradeep Sangwan, but instead the ticket was given to a Brahmin Congressman who was even rejected by Congress in an assembly seat! That too in a totally Jat dominated seat with more than 5 lakh Jat votes where there are hardly 5k Brahmin voters. BJP’s ticket distribution in Haryana only points to one thing, that the party is averse to creating Jat leadership in the state to take on Hooda. With such support from BJP, CM Hooda is an extremely happy man today! Once again the Advani faction is said to be the sole culprit of this Haryana disaster.
Hoshiyarpur (Punjab): Phagwara MLA, Som Prakash was virtually believed to have won this seat this time on a BJP ticket (he had lost it narrowly by 366 votes in 2009), until the party interfered (read as Sushma Swaraj) to give ticket to a definite loser Vijay Sampla. It is believed that the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha virtually made it a prestige issue that Sampla be given the party ticket, lest she walked out of the CEC meeting. Does one need to point out the Advani connection?
Rajgarh (Madhya Pradesh): Try and ask BJP cadre here about Mr Rodmal Nagar and all you would get is blank stares. Nagar is BJP’s candidate to take on the Congress in a seat said to be a stronghold of Digvijay Singh. If ever there was a chance of BJP wresting this seat from the Congress, this was the one, as BJP was on a historic high in Madhya Pradesh coupled with a strong anti-Congress wind blowing across the heartland, it was indeed a cocktail of success made to order. It is still a mystery as to why such a lightweight as Rodmal Nagar was recommended by Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Sushma Swaraj (both very close to Advani).
These are just a few examples as there are scores of such other abject surrender stories woefully told by hapless BJP workers (Udampur in Jammu, Basti and Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, Chhindwara in MP… the list is long). One aspect is almost clear to any unbiased observer of the BJP – that the battle to win 230+ is all but over now, for the party has already given up on many seats even before the first vote is cast. Now it is possibly the battle for 200. At least now Modi should take a leaf out of the Advani parallel of 89; had Advani given into the compromise formulas of many BJP leaders, history would not have been created in 1989. Narendra Bhai should demonstrate the same fearlessness in dealing with elders of BJP today, for he has a historic role to play – the deliverance of India. Individuals like Advani don’t matter beyond Dilli TV studio debates, what really matters and what history will judge you upon is the doctrine that you adapt. Positive Secularism will outlast Advani many times over.